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Topical Questions

Volume 630: debated on Thursday 2 November 2017

We are eagerly hoping to hear the hon. Lady’s question, but Question 1 will do for a start.

I am glad it is not just me that makes those mistakes, Mr Speaker. I have been here a lot longer than the hon. Lady, so I have got less excuse. Since our last oral questions, the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence has provided a new dynamic for the EU negotiations. That was recognised at the EU’s October Council, where leaders confirmed the intention to begin their internal work on future partnership. We are ready for that discussion to begin as soon as they are. In the meantime, we are making good progress on a raft of separation issues—the financial settlement, Ireland and citizens’ rights—and I look forward to further hard work when I travel to Brussels to continue talks next week. As we do so, I will continue to engage with member states across Europe to talk about the deep and special partnership we seek to strike. To that end, I am meeting my counterparts from the Irish Government later today and others later next week.

I thank the Minister for showing that time does not always mean talent. I am hoping he can help answer a question that my constituents keep asking: how much is all of this going to cost us? Departments do not seem able to answer that, and I have been asking them. Some of them think they are not paying anything at all, whereas others think everybody else is paying. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says it has received extra cash to pay for the impact of the Brexit negotiations; the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says it does not know how much any of this is going to cost; the Department for Communities and Local Government says it is expecting the Treasury to pick up the tab; and the Ministry of Defence says it is not spending anything because it expects there to be a deal and so no funding is required. This is a bit of a mess, so can this Secretary of State commit to publishing, by Department, by year, details on how much money has been put aside for the cost of negotiations and whether that money is from the Department or from another budget?

Order. I know the hon. Lady is an academic doctor, but it is not necessary to treat Question Time as the occasion for the presentation of a thesis.

The hon. Lady demonstrated the second half of her original quip; speed of wit does not equate to speed of question. The simple answer to her question is that, as we have already said, the Treasury is putting aside £250 million for contingency planning this year and a total of £500 million overall. That money will be spent where it is necessary, and that will change depending on the progress of the negotiations.

T2. Does the Secretary of State agree that the regions, particularly the Black country, which I represent, need a voice in the negotiations, so that the voice of business in the Black country can be firmly put on the agenda in terms of the priorities of a growing manufacturing area seeing a great revival in employment and growth? (901578)

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is about all the regions and all the nations of the United Kingdom—not simply the Black country, although that is very important. I have already seen the London Mayor to talk about London and northern mayors to talk about the north, and I am about to see Andy Street. We will continue our ongoing discussions with the regions of the UK, both through local government and the businesses in these sectors.

T3. Earlier this week, Calum Steele, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said that a failure to be a part of Europol after Brexit will hinder our ability to investigate horrendous crimes such as people trafficking, drug dealing and prostitution. Obviously, the Secretary of State will recognise that organised crime does not respect national borders, so will he categorically assure the Scottish Police Federation and this House that co-operation through Europol will continue after Brexit? (901579)

We are at the beginning of a negotiation, as the hon. Gentleman knows. [Interruption.] I cannot hear his heckle from a sedentary position. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the whole issue of security, counter-terrorism and foreign policy will make up a second treaty which we intend to put to the European Union. Every member state I have spoken to has welcomed that, so I expect that we will be able to make the Scottish Police Federation very happy.

A superb event last night in this House celebrated the contribution of Lincolnshire’s great food sector. One question our fine producers asked was about their wish to have access to labour continue as free movement ends. Can the Secretary of State reassure those great businesses that he will continue to work with the Home Office to make sure that some version of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme continues as free movement ends?

This is similar to the question put to me earlier about Northern Ireland, and I will make a final point to add to the one I made earlier about the Migration Advisory Committee looking at this. Throughout the past year I have said time and again that taking back control of migration does not mean a sudden stop on migration or migration being managed in such a way that damages the economy. So my hon. Friend can take comfort from that.

T4. Given the House’s clear expression yesterday of its will that the sectoral analyses should be provided to the Select Committee, does the Secretary of State agree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who said that the Government“must publish these papers to the Brexit Select Committee in full”?—[Official Report, 1 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 922.]Or does he not trust the Select Committee? (901580)

I was not here yesterday; by the sounds of it I missed a good debate, and one that would have suited my character, but there we are. I have already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—he sends his apologies for not being present today; I think he has to be in Leeds—and I am organising discussions with him about how we handle the confidentiality of the documentation that we hand over. I reiterate the point made by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), which is that these documents are not some sort of grand plan; they are data about the regulations and markets of individual sectors, which inform our negotiation. Of course we will be as open as we can be with the Select Committee—I fully intend to be.

Has the Secretary of State been made aware of the evidence given by people from the aviation industry to the Transport Committee on Monday? They spoke positively about the future of their industry post-Brexit and were very satisfied with the Government’s approach. Talk of aircraft being grounded is nonsense.

I thank my hon. Friend for that important question. Yes, we are aware of that important evidence. We will of course continue to work with the industry to ensure we have the best approach to future negotiations on this front, but it is reassuring to hear that confidence from the aviation industry, which is very important to the UK.

T5. Ministers have kindly committed today to coming back to the House with their response to last night’s vote “in due course”. We know that “shortly” meant four months. Will Ministers confirm what they mean by “in due course”, and if they do not know yet, when will they? (901581)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said moments ago, he has already spoken to the Chairman of the Select Committee, and I spoke to him briefly last night. We are fully apprised of the will of the House and we will move as swiftly as possible in all the circumstances.

Bass has been fished in the Solent for centuries, and the exceptionally resilient fishermen of today are based in Warsash in my constituency. For decades, they have seen their livelihoods and freedoms eroded by EU regulations. Will the Minister explain to and reassure the fishermen in Warsash about the opportunities they will face once we have left the EU and taken back control of our fisheries policy?

As I have travelled during my duties, I have met a number of fishers who have been very keen to make sure that we take back control of our waters. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will be seeking a fairer share of quota as we take control of our fisheries policy.

T6. Will the Secretary of State undertake to publish a list of all the regulatory and supervisory agencies that currently operate under the auspices of the European Union that he believes will need to be replicated by the United Kingdom on the day of Brexit? (901582)

That work is currently ongoing. Departments have set out that, together, they will expect to introduce between 800 and 1,000 statutory instruments in order to carry forward the degree of certainty and continuity that we expect to deliver through the repeal Bill. In due course we will of course put all those instruments before the House.

The president of the European Free Trade Association court will visit London later this month. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State take that opportunity to explore with him the potential that that court might offer a means of resolving potential legal disputes and other matters of resolution in a transitional future arrangement?

Actually, I have already met the president of the EFTA court. He has come to see me before and is a very—how can I say it?—enterprising individual who I think wants to get more business for his court. We will of course look at all options. I do not think the EFTA court is likely to be the one that we land with, but when we go through the whole question of arbitration mechanisms, which we will need to have, we will of course look at all options.

T7. What steps are Ministers taking in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU to protect environmental standards? (901583)

We take the UK’s commitments to environmental standards extremely seriously. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have promised to be the first ever to leave the environment in a better state than the previous generation, and that commitment applies across Government. We are looking forward to discussing environmental standards with the EU as part of the discussions on the future partnership.

While aiming for an open free-trade arrangement with the EU, is it not simply sensible planning to prepare also for a no-deal scenario?

Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right, and that is precisely what we are doing. As I said to a Labour Member earlier, we are planning for all options: the deal option; the bare bones, or basic deal; or the incredibly improbable no-deal option. We are prepared for all of them.

T8. Speaking on behalf of small businesses in my constituency, let me ask the Minister what plans his Department has to protect supply chain small and medium-sized enterprises when the UK leaves the EU. (901584)

Small businesses will of course benefit from the frictionless market access that we set out in our customs paper, and we look forward to discussing it further as we move on to conversations with the EU about our future relationship and a strong deal on market access for both goods and services.

There have been reports that senior current and former parliamentary figures have been engaged in private discussions with the EU’s chief negotiator and that some of those individuals are members of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. In the interests of transparency, have transcripts of those meetings been made available, and does the Secretary of State regard such extra parliamentary activity as helpful or a hindrance to the UK’s national interest?

There are no such records. As for helpful or a hindrance, let us say that it adds to the gaiety of nations.

T9. The Secretary of State will be aware that a series of amendments have been tabled to the Bill to protect the place of Scotland and Wales in the constitutional settlement as it stands. Has he had any representations from the Scottish or Welsh Conservative leaders about areas in the Bill that need to be changed to protect the place of Scotland and Wales? (901585)

We are in constant discussion with the Conservatives in both Scotland and Wales over their future after Brexit, and they have been very active.

T10. Again today, the Government have completely failed to understand the urgent need for a transition agreement as soon as possible. Apart from being out of the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament, will the Secretary of State say which other EU institutions will not be included in a transition deal? (901586)

I can say two things. First, let me deal with the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. We are in a position in which the European Council will come to a conclusion in the middle of December—I think that it meets on 13 and 14 December. I have said at this Dispatch Box today, while she was listening, that we will undertake the negotiation as fast as possible thereafter. How much more urgent we can be, I do not know.

Will one of the Ministers give some early clarity over the issue of protected status for agricultural exports, including the 14 agricultural products in Wales worth more than £300 million?

I have answered questions on that issue in previous question sessions and I have been very clear that it is our intention to seek agreement with the European Union on mutual recognition of protected names of origin, and we will continue to work on its delivery with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as we enter the future partnership negotiations.

This week, the Committee of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill was told by many expert witnesses that the Bill was inadequate and the time insufficient to create an alternative structure for Euratom when we leave the EU. Given the risks, will the Secretary of State commit now to pushing for maintaining our membership of Euratom in the agreement?

The institutions of Euratom are tightly coupled with the institutions of the European Union. Therefore, we need to leave Euratom as we leave the EU.

That is the advice that we have had. We will look carefully at the advice of those experts and take what steps are appropriate to the Government.

The young people of the Glasgow youth council are applying for Erasmus plus funding. I am sure that the Secretary of State would like to give them all his best wishes on their application. They are applying as part of the Year of Young People 2018. How will he ensure that that generation is not the last generation to benefit from freedom of movement across Europe?

First, I wish them well, through the hon. Lady. Secondly, Erasmus is one of the institutions that we may stay a member of—if we can negotiate that—as we leave.

The west of England economy contributes £10 billion to the Treasury. Is it conceivable that, in due course, we will understand what the impact of leaving is on the west of England economy? Can the Secretary of State add the people of the west of England to his list of those he will meet to discuss the impact?

As somebody originally from Cornwall, I was pleased recently to visit the county during the course of our regional engagement. I hope and expect that we will continue that engagement as we seek ways to ensure that the opportunities of leaving the European Union are enjoyed by all parts of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales have not been able to answer this question in the past week, so I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Brexit can. Can he name one power that will definitely be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, a discussion is under way with the devolved Administrations through the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) led by the First Secretary of State. Agreement has been reached on principles where common frameworks will be required. I look forward to that discussion, agreeing a long list of powers, as we increase the competence of each of the devolved Administrations.

Far from creating a global Britain, the Government have created a Britain in which EU citizens are having to seek counselling, and 10% of them who worked in the NHS have left. Why will the Government not ring-fence this matter or issue a unilateral declaration to provide certainty for those EU citizens?

The Prime Minister has been very clear from this Dispatch Box that we want EU citizens to stay. We are negotiating to achieve certainty over the way in which that will work under the legal frameworks of the EU and the UK. It is very important that we do that and get that agreed as soon as possible.

The Government’s paper on foreign policy, defence and security after we leave the European Union suggests that there are many areas where we want to maintain a very strong relationship with the EU. The paper seems to suggest that we should have some kind of observer status at the relevant Council meetings afterwards. Would it not be bizarre for us not to have that if we are still engaged in things such as Operation Atalanta, Operation Althea and many other projects? Otherwise, the rules and the determination of how those projects should be progressed will be determined by people in a room that we are not able to access.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Indeed, I had dinner with the French Foreign Minister last week. Speaking to him, it was clear that member states see a very important role for Britain as a provider not just of military power, but of wisdom, skill, history, tradition and reputation.